Opinion

Novos Escudeiros no Priorado Ibérico

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Os tempos do rápido consumo das coisas mundanas levou ao rápido consumo das coisas que valem mais que o mundo. Num ápice, passamos por elas sem as experimentar verdadeiramente e sem nos determos o tempo suficiente para nos deixar seduzir nem pelo seu encanto, nem pela voz que evidenciam e não ouvimos. A vontade de ter e de chegar cobre e oculta os aromas suaves que só se experimentam no passar largo.

Muitos ramos das Ordens que derivam do reavivar dos valores Templários nos séculos XVIII e XIX desconhecem os graus de Noviço e Escudeiro. Entra-se na Ordem por cima. Da rua a Cavaleiro em poucos minutos. Passe de ilusionismo, capa na mão. Flup! Já está! Muitas vezes até ouvimos “Sr. Fulano é uma pessoa extraordinária e já era Templário ante de o ser”. Mas como é que se pode ser antes de ser? Estaremos a cumprir o nosso desígnio ao passar a Cavalaria com a facilidade de quem passa uma constipação?  É que muitas vezes a vontade de “ser Templário” assemelha-se a uma febre  rápida, mas passageira, que se apanha com os amigos. Um espirro aqui e ali: “Sim, juro! Sim, prometo!”, mas depois de passar só ficam para trás os lenços de assoar. Entrou e saiu com a velocidade de um tiro. Ala que se faz tarde. Templários quê? Já tenho… Já sou! Já fui…

Por isso, é de destacar a tenacidade daqueles que procuraram com igual curiosidade e desejo, mas em vez de se deixarem seduzir pela Via Rápida, se mantiveram atentos à Via Dolorosa, mais lenta mas, por ventura, mais segura. Hoje, pedir a alguém uma cifra elevada em Euros para o fazer rapidamente “templário” é mais fácil do que pedir a alguém mais de um ano de estudo e formação para (talvez…) chegar a ser Cavaleiro. Ninguém quer esperar meses para eventualmente ter o que, tudo indica, ser a mesma coisa, mas muito mais depressa. Ninguém quer perder tempo a estudar o que já leu nos livros que tem sobre a Ordem. A Via Rápida é ampla e sem obstáculos, com arrojados viadutos sobre o vale (nem é preciso lá descer), três faixas de rodagem e Via Verde. Já a Via Dolorosa, é longa e não se sabe mais nada. Só se sabe que demora muito tempo. Poucos vêem a necessidade de começar como Noviço. “Noviço, eu? Já ando a estudar isto há tanto tempo! Então agora é que vou ser Noviço?”. Poucos vêem no Escudeiro uma progressão. A poucos interessa a Via Dolorosa porque o que procuram não é ser, mas parecer (assumir a similitude, esperando que assim se dê a ilusão, literalmente que “o hábito faça o monge”). O que é instantâneo na Via Rápida é incerto e longínquo na Via Dolorosa. Ou, sendo porventura caridoso, tudo é longínquo e incerto na Via Delarosa ou Via De la Rosa.

A Ordem dá por isso os parabéns aos novos Escudeiros e Escudeiras, reconhecendo neles e nelas a dedicação e o desejo de progredir um pouco mais no seu trabalho de instrução e despertar espiritual. Não será demais dizê-lo: pelo serviço, a recompensa é certa.

Luis de Matos

Prior Geral

Chanceler Internacional

OSMTHU

 

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Hunt for the Knights Templar’s Wealth in the New World

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For nearly two centuries, the Knights Templar plundered the vast riches of the Near East while marching under the banner of Christ in the Crusades. In addition to the silks, bullion, spices and other valuables the Templars claimed as spoils of war, the wealth of countless dukes, barons, viscounts and other lords flowed into the Order’s coffers as the flower of European nobility rushed to join the ranks of the holy warriors. The massive fortune collected by the Templars generated awe, jealousy and—in the centuries after their disbandment—hope for a payout.

“It’s fantastic treasure,” says Marty Lagina, who along with brother Rick stars in History Channel’s The Curse of Oak Island. The show follows the brothers’ quest to uncover a vast store of riches long rumored to be hidden on its titular Nova Scotian island. What exactly that treasure is (and who hid it) eludes clear-cut definition. Theorists and treasure hunters speculate it is anything from lost manuscripts of Shakespearean plays to Marie Antoinette’s jewels to a sunken Viking ship. But the Laginas have seen enough evidence to convince them the treasure could be part of the lost Templar riches. “The connection with the Templars has always been there, since the original discovery of the Money Pit, which supposedly happened in 1795,” says Rick. “There’s always been four or five credible theories about the treasure’s origins—one of which has been that it’s from the Templars.”

How did the wealth of a medieval order of knights, who were destroyed more than a century before Christopher Columbus’s historic voyage, find a home in the New World? The prevailing theory among true believers is that during the Templar’s final days, a fleet of the Order’s ships sailed from La Rochelle, France to the safety of Scotland. The treasure then rested at Kilwinning Abbey until Sir Henry Sinclair and a group of Scottish knights spirited the wealth away to Oak Island, hiding the riches on the island for their progeny to eventually recover.

The story strikes most historians as more than a little fanciful, and the Laginas certainly approach it with a healthy sense of skepticism. “The theory gets a little more tenuous after you have the knights leaving Scotland,” says Marty. However, the brothers quickly point to what they believe is evidence that other Europeans reached the shores of America before Columbus. “There’s the Newport Tower in Rhode Island, which, according to the carbon-14 dating, was constructed between 1440 and 1480,” says Rick (though most researchers believe the tower was built well after Columbus’s discovery). He also references the Narragansett Rune Stone in Rhode Island, which, according to geologist Scott Wolter, contains a mark that links the slab of rock to the same sect of monks that helped construct Kilwinning Abbey—the same place that supposedly housed the Templar treasure before its journey to the New World. “There are these connections—spider web connections—but no dots that say it went from here to here to Oak Island,” says Rick.

Despite the lack of a smoking gun proving Sinclair and the Scottish knights made the voyage to Oak Island, the brothers maintain certain discoveries they’ve made on Oak Island make the Templar theory intriguing, if not convincing. “Has there been a find on Oak Island that we can say is a definitive tie-in to the Templars? No,” says Rick. “But, are there curious facts and bits of discovery that indicate the possibility? Yes.” One of those bits of evidence is the fact that the flag of the island’s native peoples, the Mi’kmaq, bears a striking resemblance to the Templar’s battle flag: a red cross on white with a red crescent and red star.

For Marty, the engravings of what appear to him to be corn and trillium flowers in Scotland’s Rosslyn Chapel—a chapel built by Henry Sinclair’s grandson William in 1446—lend credence to the Templar theory. “To me, being from upper Michigan, there does really appear to be trilliums in the chapel,” says Marty. Both corn and trillium flowers are native to the Americas, indicating to Marty that Henry Sinclair had visited the New World and passed on what he saw to his family, who later incorporated it into the chapel decorations.

After pouring so much of their time and energy into navigating the pitfalls and perils of Oak Island in their effort to uncover the island’s secrets, the Laginas have high hopes their story will end with some sort of payoff. “We all want our money back,” says Rick. But while the brothers would love to discover a pile of gold and riches straight out of an Indiana Jones adventure, the rewards of the hunt extend beyond material goods. “I believe there’s a story on Oak Island of historic significance, and I want to be part of the team that figures it out,” says Rick. “If that story involves the Templars—one of the most powerful entities on the face of continental Europe during their time—then all the better.”

His brother agrees that finding solid proof of a Templar presence at Oak Island would constitute a huge win, but also embraces the mindset of what his sibling calls “hopeful skepticism.” “There are certain people who believe almost every lost treasure in existence has a connection to Oak Island. So we’ve got to take it all with a little dose of reality,” Marty says. In an adventure filled with half-truths and cryptic clues, keeping that level head may be the most valuable asset of all.

This article appears in the Newsweek’s special edition, Secret Socities: Infiltrating the Inner Circle, by Issue Editor James Ellis of Topix Media Lab.

Lessons in Crusader cuisine

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The “window” of the Apollonia Fortress’ dungeon affords a view of the kind of Mediterranean scene that is fast disappearing: gravel cliffs sloping sharply down to turquoise and pale green inlets, grouper fish darting around a reef, clearly visible in the transparent water, and one man sunbathing on the rocks, completely naked. The tourists standing at the spot where the magnificent tower once loomed gaze enchanted at the view – either at the sunbather’s exposed limbs, or, more likely, at the remnants of the Crusader port. This is a collection of boulders protruding from the water, what’s left of the towers that once stood by the entry of the ancient port before they grew weary and collapsed in the mid-20th century, several hundred years after they were built.

Crusader nobles awakened to this vista every morning, peering out at the European ships that anchored across from the port and the boats that made their way back and forth to fill the city’s storerooms with precious goods. The living quarters of the Crusader fortress, where the families of the knights who ruled the area resided, were located on the western side of the fortress, which faced the sea. This section eventually collapsed after ceaseless erosion by the waves of the gravel ridge.

Apollonia’s natural harbor never developed into a port as large as Acre, where dozens of ships would anchor in the 13th century, to be loaded with locally- produced sugar bound for Europe. But the ruins of Apollonia are enough to make one see that the constant movement of people, raw materials and cooking techniques was already occurring hundreds of years before the word “globalization” became part of the modern vocabulary.

Sugar cane, lemons, oranges, eggplant, bananas, rice and other agricultural products originally cultivated in the Far East were adopted by Western civilization via the Middle East. The legends that grew up around the West’s first encounters with these unfamiliar foods and the way they spread throughout Europe were largely connected to the Crusades and the knights who flooded the Middle East with blood on their way to the Holy Land. They hungrily gorged themselves on sugary sweets and almonds, it’s said, and brought these treats back with them to their native countries.

But the historic truth, as usual, is a bit more complex, since most of the knights who settled in the Crusader kingdom never returned to Europe. Today it is widely believed that the reconquest of Spain and Sicily from the Muslim Empire, rather than the Crusades, introduced the foods and flavors of classic Arabic cuisine into the lands of the Mediterranean and then to Western Europe.

Whatever the case, the West’s encounter in the Middle Ages with Arabic cuisine, which in many respects was more advanced than Western cooking of the time, was a source of great excitement among the Crusaders. This week, we returned to the cuisine of the Land of Israel in the 12th and 13th centuries – via a Crusader cooking workshop at Apollonia National Park.

Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you who you are. In the Middle Ages, so we learned in the workshop, food defined a person’s identity and status in the world. This is true to a great extent today as well, but it was even truer when people believed that the nobleman’s physical build required him to eat the dainty flesh of fish, fragile, high-flying birds, and roast game. A peasant whose body was not designed to digest such foods and nevertheless sampled them, was liable to take sick, according to popular belief at the time, and so he was supposed to make do with simple, crude vegetables that grew close to the ground. Once in a while, the poor would season their bean and root vegetable stew with a paltry bit of fat from an animal’s less desirable parts.

Meanwhile, the upper middle class ate hardly any vegetables. And as for carbohydrates, white bread made from wheat was food for lords only. In Europe, the peasants ate black bread made from rye or oats, and delivered any wheat, a much rarer commodity, to whoever was above them in the social hierarchy. Thus, the Crusaders were quite surprised to find that in the Holy Land, everyone ate white bread and pita made of wheat.

In Europe, cooking employed mainly animal fat, usually lard, and food was so greasy that bumps were carved in bowls to keep it from slipping out of people’s hands. In the Middle East, the main sources of fat were olive oil and sesame oil.

Another surprise was the abundance of available spices and the broad use of herbs. In medieval Europe, food was seasoned primarily with black pepper and a little salt, which was also used to preserve, smoke and dry foods. In Arab cuisine, by comparison, seasoning was considered a real art. Extensive use was made of spices such as ginger, saffron, cinnamon and cloves, which the Arab traders brought from the spice lands of the East, and of seasonings produced from indigenous herbs.

The Crusaders appear to have internalized the principles of seasoning so well that if you tried to follow Crusader recipes exactly as written, you’d end up with dishes quite unappetizing to the modern palate. Seasoning in Crusader times was not just meant to improve the taste of the food, but had a host of other purposes as well. For one thing, it was a status symbol that reflected a person’s ability to purchase expensive spices from faraway markets. And the various colors that spices gave to food had mystical meanings – for example, the golden hue produced by yellow saffron was an allusion to the possibility of eternal life. The spices also had medicinal purposes.

But most often, the heavy seasoning was intended to cover up the awful taste and quality of the raw ingredients. At a time when there was no refrigeration, the meat was frequently in a bad state. Such dubious meat, buried under layers of spices to hide its flavor, gave the central bazaar that served the Crusaders in Jerusalem its name – the Rue de Malquisinat (“The Street of Bad Cooking”).

Na’ama Frustig and chef David Gol, the leaders of the workshop, chose dishes composed of ingredients that existed during the Crusader period here and adapted them to the modern palate – i.e., they reduced the cacophony of spices and flavors of the original recipes. The lamb packed into the browned meat pies is not soaked overnight in sour milk, as was customary back in the Crusader era, but chopped and fried with egg yolk (in the Middle Ages, eggs were rarely eaten on their own as a food, but were cooked with other ingredients), rosemary, parsley, oregano, thyme and a variety of other local herbs. Jacques de Vitry, the governor of Acre, wrote admiringly of the lemon trees, whose tangy fruits were ideal for making sauces for fish and fowl. So chicken thighs were brushed with a mixture of lemon, olive oil and sumac. While the lentil stew simmered over an open fire, workshop participants were taken on a tour of the fortress’ kitchens.

Here is an adaptation of a recipe that appears in different versions in cookbooks from the late Middle Ages. It is based on lemon, spices and wine (the Crusaders who settled in the Holy Land revived, at least for a while, the wine industry that had faded during the age of Muslim occupation) and is a good example of that era’s tendency to blend sweet, sour and salty tastes.

Lemon sauce for chicken and pheasant

Ingredients:

3 lemons

2 1/2 cups white wine

4 tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. salt

Peel the lemons and set aside the peel. Squeeze the lemons, keep the juice and the pulp and discard the white pith. Combine lemon peel, pulp and juice with the wine and cook over a low flame for four minutes. Add the sugar, cinnamon and salt and simmer for one more minute.

The main celebrity of Apollonia was King Richard the Lionheart. Since little Apollonia did not appear on the map of holy pilgrimage sites, not too many VIPs of the time stayed there, but the English king did spend at least one night. He had run into a unit of Saladin’s army near the city, and in the famous Battle of Arsuf, managed, despite the Crusader army’s inferior numbers, to achieve a great victory, which paved the way for the conquest of the Holy Land. This battle exacted a heavy price among the Crusaders, including the life of Richard’s friend, Sir Jacques, who as buried at the Church of the Holy Lady in Apollonia in the presence of the king himself. The church and the knight’s grave have yet to be found (take note, all you prospective writers of best-selling historic adventure tales).

The history of the Apollonia fortress, unlike that of the city itself, is very brief. It was built by the Crusader rulers of the city, but it wasn’t long before, in the face of the Mamluk threat, it passed into the hands of the Knights Hospitaller, who were thought to have a better chance of defending the city. As it happened, this strategy was not very successful. Nor was the digging of a wide, 17-meter deep moat that could only be crossed by a raised wooden bridge, or biological weapons in the form of animal carcasses that were hurled over the wall to spread disease among the enemy. Just 24 years after it was built, the Mamluks conquered the fortress after a siege that was anything but lengthy.

But before that happened, 200 Knights Hospitaller and their bearers used to dine at the large wooden table in the dining hall twice a day – most likely in shifts, given the tight space (during the siege, 2,000 people somehow squeezed into the fortress).

The Christian monastic communities, which set down in great detail the rules of eating – including what goes on the menu, seating arrangements and frequency of meals – had an especially important influence on lifestyles in the Middle Ages. Every knight had his own personal knife, there were no forks as yet, and spoons were a rare item. The soup and stew bowls found in excavations were designed to enable diners to drink from them directly.

In the five cooking and baking ovens found in the kitchen next to the dining hall, stews simmered and slabs of meat were roasted. The city’s knights went on hunting trips in pursuit of the fallow deer, wild boar, rabbits and bears that still populated those unsettled areas at the time. One of the city’s rulers died in a freak hunting accident when his hat became stuck on a tree branch, causing him to be strangled.

Tagliot – Archaeology 4 All offers cooking workshops in Philistine, Crusader and Ottoman cuisine. For more information, call 03-6423432 or visit http://www.tagliot.com

Hitler’s Hunt for the Holy Grail and the Ghent Altarpiece

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Why did Hitler crave the missing panel in the famous Ghent Altarpiece? Maybe because the Nazi’s paranormal research group thought the masterpiece contained a map to the Holy Grail.

On the night of 10 April 1934, one of the twelve oak panels that comprise Jan van Eyck’s famous painting, Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, was stolen from Saint Bavo Cathedral, in Ghent, Belgium. Often referred to as “The Ghent Altarpiece,” this monumental oil painting is arguably the single most influential painting ever made. It is also the most-frequently stolen, having been burgled, in its entirety or in parts, at least six times—quite a feat, considering that it is the size of a barn door (14 x 11.5 feet) and weighs about two tons. It was the most-desired artwork by the Nazis, including Hitler and his second-in-command, Hermann Göring.

The two Nazi leaders actually raced one another to be the first to steal the altarpiece. The Nazi art theft unit, the ERR, captured it first for Hitler, from its hiding place at Chateau de Pau, in the south of France, where the Belgian government had sent it for safe-keeping. But an emissary from Göring appropriated it for the Luftwaffe head’s massive stolen art collection, which included some seven-thousand masterpieces, displayed at his country estate outside Berlin. Hitler got wind of this, and intercepted the altarpiece, sending it first to Castle Neuschwanstein in Bavaria, where it was restored, and then for storage in a salt mine in the Austrian Alps near Altaussee, where the twelve-thousand most famous stolen artworks from Nazi-occupied Europe were kept in secret, destined to feature in Hitler’s planned “super museum,” which would be the size of a city, and display every important artwork in the world. From the Altaussee salt mine, the Ghent Altarpiece and its fellow captives were ultimately rescued, thanks to the combined efforts of Austrian miners and a pair of Monuments Men, Robert Posey and Lincoln Kirstein, who only learned of the Altaussee hoard thanks to a fortuitous toothache that led them to a former SS officer, an art historian who was in hiding as the war drew to a close. The upcoming George Clooney film, The Monuments Men, dramatizes some of these stories, though taking a great many liberties in the process.

The iconography of The Ghent Altarpiece has long fascinated scholars. The painting was immediately the most famous in Europe, when it was completed in 1432. It was the first major oil painting. Oil had been used to bind pigments to paintings since the Middle Ages, but Jan van Eyck was the first to demonstrate the true potential of oils, which permit far greater subtlety and detail than largely-opaque egg-based tempera paint, which was preferred before The Ghent Altarpiece popularized oils. The altarpiece contains over 100 figures, and is an elaborate pantheon of Catholic mysticism—at its center stands a heavenly field, brimming with uniquely-depicted figures around a sacrificial lamb, representative of Christ (the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb from which the work draws it title). The lamb stands upon an altar and bleeds into a chalice—the Holy Grail.

Hitler so craved the Ghent Altarpiece because it was one of the most famous artworks in history, and it was by a Germanic artist, in the realistic, Northern Renaissance style that Hitler preferred.  It had also been forcibly repatriated to Belgium after the First World War, before which certain panels of the altarpiece had been displayed in Berlin. The Treaty of Versailles mentioned only four works of cultural heritage, foremost among them The Ghent Altarpiece. Hitler wanted to correct the humiliation inflicted on the German people by the Treaty of Versailles, and recapturing the altarpiece would go some way toward that goal.

But there may also have been a more fantastic reason why Hitler wanted this painting above all others. Rumor had it that he was convinced that the painting contained a coded map to lost Catholic treasures, the so-called Arma Christi, or instruments of Christ’s Passion, including the Crown of Thorns, the Holy Grail, and the Spear of Destiny. Hitler believed that the possession of the Arma Christiwould grant their owner supernatural powers. As the tide of the war turned ever more against the Nazis, Hitler cranked up his efforts to seek some supernatural way to bring victory to the Third Reich.

Cue the soundtrack to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Nazis tried to create super-soldiers, using steroids, in a twisted interpretation of Nietzsche’sübermensch, and they sought to reanimate the dead—coffins of famous Germanic warriors were found hidden in a mine, with plans to bring them back to life at the war’s end.
The idea that the Nazis had teams of researchers hunting for supernatural treasures, religious relics, and entrances to a magical land of telepathic faeries and giants might sound like a bad History Channel documentary, or out-takes from an Indiana Jones movie. But despite the considerable popular interest in all things Nazi-related, and all things supernatural, relatively few people are aware of a very real organization that was the inspiration for the Indiana Jones plots: the Nazi Ahnenerbe, or the Ancestral Heritage Research and Teaching Organization.

The Ahnenerbe (which literally means “Inheritance of the Forefathers”) was a paranormal research group, established by order of SS head Heinrich Himmler on 1 July 1935. It was expanded during the Second World War on direct orders from the Fuhrer. Hitler and other top Nazi leaders’ (Himmler foremost among them) interest in the occult is well and widely documented. The Nazi Party actually began as an occult fraternity, before it morphed into a political party. Himmler’s SS, ostensibly Hitler’s bodyguard but in practice the leading special forces of the Nazi Army, was wholly designed based on occult beliefs. Wewelsburg, the castle headquarters of the SS, was the site of initiation rituals for twelve SS “knights” that was modeled on Arthurian legend. The magical powers of runes were invoked, and the Ahnenerbe logo features rune-style lettering. Psychics and astrologers were employed to attack the enemy and plan tactics based on the alignment of the stars. Nazis tried to create super-soldiers, using steroids, in a twisted interpretation of Nietzsche’s übermensch, and they sought to reanimate the dead—coffins of famous Germanic warriors were found hidden in a mine, with plans to bring them back to life at the war’s end.

The Ahnenerbe sent expeditions all over the world. To Tibet, to search for traces of the original, uncorrupted Aryan race, and for a creature called the Yeti, what we would call the Abominable Snowman. To Ethiopia, in search of the Ark of the Covenant. To the Languedoc, to find the Holy Grail. To steal the Spear of Destiny, which Longinus used to pierce Christ’s side as Christ hung on the cross, and which disappeared from a locked vault in Nurnberg. To Iceland, to find the entrance to a magical land of telepathic giants and faeries called Thule, which Hitler and most of the Nazi brass believed was the place of origin of the Aryans, and was very real. If they could find this entrance, believed to be accessible via a secret code hidden in a Medieval Icelandic saga called The Eddas, then the Nazis might accelerate their Aryan breeding program, and recover the supernatural powers of flight, telepathy and telekinesis that they believed their ancestors in Thule possessed, and which was lost due to inter-breeding with “lesser” races.

As crazy as all this may sound, it was fervently believed by many in the Nazi Party—so much so that huge sums of money were invested into research, along with hundreds of workers and scientists. This pseudo-scientific institute both sought supernatural advantages for the Nazi war effort, but also had a propagandistic agenda, to seek “scientific” evidence to support Nazi beliefs, like Aryan racial superiority.

With all this in mind, it is entirely plausible that Hitler believed that the Ghent Altarpiece contained a coded map to supernatural treasure. After all, the Ahnenerbe was hard at work looking for a secret entrance to the magical land of Thule in the Icelandic saga, The Eddas. Whether such a map is in The Ghent Altarpiece is another matter, one that scholars dismiss out of hand, though it is tempting to interpret the complex, enigmatic iconography and disguised symbolism of van Eyck’s masterpiece in terms more exotic than those in the average art history textbook. But there is also another component to the story that fuels this theory, and it is linked to the 1934 theft of that single panel.

There has never been a convincing explanation for the motivation for the theft of the Righteous Judges panel, referred to as such because it depicts a group of Biblical wise men (while also hiding several portraits, including one of van Eyck). While the man who masterminded the theft of the Judges panel, Arsene Goedertier, is known, he could not have acted alone, and his motivation is uncertain. The panel was ostensibly stolen in order to ransom it back to the bishopric of Saint Bavo—but Goedertier had more money in his bank account than was asked for in the ransom demand. For lack of a clear motive, various theories have arisen, one of which is linked to a Nazi art detective, Heinrich Köhn, who was sent to Ghent to find the stolen Judges panel several years before the Nazis seized the other eleven panels of the altarpiece.

Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, along with Himmler, conceived of the idea to find the lost Judges panel and give it as a gift to Hitler at the tenth anniversary of his assumption of power in Germany, in 1943. Köhn investigated throughout the city of Ghent, even taking apart portions of the cathedral (for one theory held that the panel had been hidden on-site, never having left Saint Bavo). He found nothing, and was sent to fight in the Eastern Front for his failure. Why would the Nazis wish to locate a single stolen panel? They surely had designs on seizing the entire altarpiece, and did not wish it to be incomplete when they did so. Some have suggested that the coded treasure map leading to the Arma Christiwas missing a key component that was hidden in the Judges panel. In order for the map to bear fruit, that panel was needed. It was stolen in 1934, therefore, to keep it out of Nazi hands, should the nascent Adolf Hitler follow through with his plan to recapture The Ghent Altarpiece and make it the focal point of his super-museum.

While there are plenty of non-supernatural, non-Da Vinci Code-y rationales for Hitler to desire The Ghent Altarpiece above all other objects, it is entirely plausible that Hitler might have believed in the coded treasure map theory. It seems far-fetched to us today, until we consider the other crazy theories that were truly believed by Hitler and his cronies. If The Eddas might contain a code to gain entrance to the magical land of Thule, where Aryan ancestors lived as flying telepathic faeries and giants then, according to Nazi logic, then the world’s most important painting might indeed contain a treasure map leading to the Holy Grail.

in thedailybeast.com

Mystery Ulfberht Viking sword has archaeologists stumped

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A mystery sword made by the Vikings and engraved with the word Ulfberht has stumped archaeologists. The sword is forged in such a way that it looks to have been made by technologies that weren’t available until 800 years after the Viking era.

Around 170 of the swords have been found, all of which date from between 800AD to 1000AD, but the technology that would have forged them is from the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s and 1900s.

A television programme has looked into the mystery in more detail called, ‘Secrets of the Viking Sword’. Its researchers say that to forge the iron which the swords are made of, the ore needs to be heated to around 3000 degrees (F). It then liquefies and the impurities are removed. It is then mixed with carbon to strengthen the iron. However medieval technologies, which are what the Vikings would have been using, would not have been able to heat any metal or substance that high a temperature. In those days, the impurities would have been removed by hammering them out of the iron.

In contradiction to this, the Ulfberht contains almost no impurities at all and it has thrice the amount of carbon in it than any other metals that are known to have existed at the time. The metal the swords are made of is known as crucible steel.

Furnaces that could heat metals and substances to extremely high temperatures what not invented until the industrial revolution when the tools for heating iron to these temperatures were also developed.

A blacksmith has consulted with the television programme’s researchers and has said that to make a sword like the Ulfberht Is highly complex and difficult. The blacksmith is the only person who has the skills and tools available to try to reproduce the metal of the Ulfberht. He believes that whoever made the sword during the Viking era would have surely been thought to possess magic powers since the metal was and still is so special and unique, Ancient Origins reports.

The sword bends but doesn’t break, it stays razorsharp, and is very light weight, and so to soldiers it would have been thought of as almost supernatural.

The blacksmith spent many days working to try to recreate the Ulfberht using medieval technology, and finally did produce a similar metal with great skill and hard work. Researchers now believe it is possible that the knowledge to make the swords originated in the Middle East and that trade routes between there and Europe would have spread the knowledge and technologies. When those trade routes eventually closed, due to lack of use, so too did the Ulfberht ceased to continue being made.

in warhistoryonline.com

The last bulwark of the Crusaders: The castle of Belvoir

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July 3, 1187 was a scorching midsummer day at the Horns of Hattin, on the plateau above Tiberias. The Arab leader Saladin outwitted and crushed a parched and ill-led Crusader army, and the 88-year-long Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem began disintegrating almost overnight. Exactly three months later, Saladin entered the Holy City of Jerusalem in triumph. By the end of the year it was all over, and the Crusaders abandoned the Holy Land with their tail between their legs.

Only one powerful castle remained to fight a defiant rearguard action: Belvoir – “beautiful view” – on a ridge 500 meters (1,600 feet) above the Jordan Valley.

The Knights Hospitallers, one of the Crusader orders of “fighting monks” (the Templars were another) had bought the site from a French nobleman in 1168 and constructed one of the dominant castles in the kingdom, designed to guard the Holy Land against invasion from the east.

Belvoir’s building stones and bedrock foundations are basalt, the region’s immensely hard volcanic rock: undermining the battlements was virtually impossible. The outer walls of the castle form a pentagon, with the main defensive towers at each of its four corners, a massive one at the eastern point facing the steep slope and the valley below, and smaller ones midway along each wall.

The fortress was protected by a dry moat excavated out of the bedrock, 20m (65 ft.) wide and 12m (39 ft.) deep, and crossed by a drawbridge (now a permanent pedestrian bridge) on the west.

The ruined north-western and south-western corner towers still have parts of the steep stairwell leading down to postern gates, used for secret access to and from the castle, or for sudden attacks on besieging enemy soldiers in the moat.

Ignore the directional arrows. The best route to take is the wide gravel path directly from the parking lot to the overlook, keeping the sculpture park on your right and the castle on your left. What awaits you is a stunning view of the quilted farms in the valley, the biblical Gilead range (now Jordan) to the east, and the edge of Lake Kinneret, or Sea of Galilee, way off to the north (your left).

The straight line that joins the lake, the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea is part of the approximately 6,000 km-long (3,700-mile) Great Syrian-African Rift, the world’s longest open fault.

The Arabic name for the site is Kaukab al-Hawa, the “Star of the Wind,” because of the strong breezes that often sweep the plateau. In Hebrew it is known as Kochav Hayarden, the “Star of the Jordan,” recalling the ancient Jewish town of Kochav nearby.

Both names are consistent with the description of the site by a medieval Arab writer. Belvoir, he wrote, is “set amidst the stars like an eagle’s nest and abode of the moon.”

Left, across the moat, steps enter the castle through a massive gate and a corridor dominated by shooting niches above your head. The corridor doubles back on itself before entering the central courtyard through another gate.

Kids usually get a charge out of “attacking” the castle this way – but keep smaller children close to you.

In the center of the courtyard is another fortified square – a fort within the fortress, so to speak. Within it are the essential elements of barracks life: sleeping halls, a kitchen, a cistern for collecting run-off rainwater, and a hint (fine-cut white stones) of what might have been an upper-floor chapel.

Belvoir endured a long siege following the disaster at the Horns of Hattin; but the knights took advantage of the occasional hiatus to replenish their supplies by attacking and plundering passing Muslim caravans. After 18 months, Saladin’s men had only managed to undermine the large eastern tower. The Hospitallers, on the other hand, were isolated and in despair; further resistance seemed futile. They parlayed with Saladin: surrender in return for safe passage out of the country. He honored the bargain, and with characteristic chivalry allowed them to ride to the coast with flags proudly unfurled in recognition of their heroic defense.

Rte. 717 (road climbs 5 kms), off Route 90, 12 km north of Beit She’an

Open Apr.-Sep. 8am-5pm (Fri. and holiday eve 8-4), Oct.-Mar. 8am-4pm (Fri. and  holiday eve 8-3)

Entrance fee

in Haaretz.com

Secret orders and supposed traitors — TV’s ‘Dig’ and religious history

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The pieces of the religious puzzle that make up the USA Network’s biblical conspiracy action series “Dig” are beginning to fall into place, and the picture they are revealing is one of history — highlighted by a colorful streak of fiction.

Here be spoilers! Read on only if you are up-to-date with the 10-part series, or want to ruin it for yourself and others.

“Order of Moriah”

This secret religious order, supposedly dating from the Crusades, seems to be a product of the “Dig” writers’ imaginations. But, like many of the show’s fictional aspects, it is based on historical fact.

The Crusades, which mainly took place from 1095 to 1291, were an attempt by the Rome-based Catholic Church to retake the Holy Land — Jerusalem and its environs — away from its Muslim rulers.

During that time, the church founded several monastic religious orders whose members traveled to Jerusalem. Some fought with the armies; some cared for the wounded and sick. The most famous of these orders were the Knights Hospitallers, the Knights Teutonic and the Knights Templar.

It is perhaps the Templars that the Order of Moriah is based on. Officially named “The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon,” the Knights Templar were anything but poor. They owned land from Rome to Jerusalem and were involved in finance throughout the Christian world. They loaned money to King Philip IV of France and the church.

That’s where they got into trouble. When the king didn’t want to pay them back, he pressuredPope Clement V to disband the knights. The resistant knights were charged with heresy and many members were arrested, tortured and burned at the stake. Legend holds that some members went into hiding — and took a lot of loot with them.

Writers have been making fictional hay with the Knights Templar and other so-called “secret” religious orders since Sir Walter Scott’s “Ivanhoe” in 1820. The most famous example is Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code,” in which a Templar-like order called the “Priory of Sion” keeps a really, really big secret about the nature of the “Holy Grail.”

Enter “Dig,” whose evil archaeologist, Ian Margove (Richard E. Grant), is after the “treasure” the Order of Moriah is supposed to have buried somewhere in Jerusalem.

Flavius Josephus

Archaeologist Margrove says that “according to Flavius Josephus,” the breastplate will pinpoint the location of the treasure.

Flavius Josephus was a first-century Jewish historian. Contemporary Jews are most familiar with him for his firsthand account of the revolt of the Maccabees, a Jewish sect that rose against Roman rule, while Christians know him for his description of Jesus’ early followers.

But Josephus’ own biography is as fascinating as his historical works. He was born to well-to-do and noble Jews in 37 C.E. in Jerusalem. At 16, he went to live with a desert hermit — perhaps an Essene — but returned to Jerusalem at age 19 and joined the Pharisees, a Jewish priestly sect. During the First Jewish-Roman War, he was in charge of a section of Jerusalem’s forces.

At one point, Josephus and 40 of his followers were trapped in a cave. Rather than surrender, Josephus persuaded them to commit group suicide, with each man drawing lots and killing a companion, so no one would have to kill himself. For whatever reason — an act of luck or the hand of God — by the time the lots got around to Josephus, he and another soldier were the last ones standing. And they surrendered to the Romans. Josephus went on to become a friend of the Emperor Vespasian and the recipient of a Roman pension.

For this reason, many have considered him a traitor — he’s been called the “Jewish Benedict Arnold” by some scholars. But in the past few decades, some scholars are rehabilitating his image, claiming he joined the Romans out of a sense of deference or even unwillingly.

Whatever the truth, the characters of “Dig” are right to turn to Josephus for information about early Jewish rituals and practices. His book “Antiquities of the Jews” describes first-century Jewish religious garments and ritual items, including a priest’s breastplate that is critical to the “Dig” plotline.

But using such a breastplate as a treasure map is fictional — not historical — at all.

YS/MG END WINSTON